KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — The beauty of south Florida’s coastline isn’t just skin-deep. Below the water lies a crucial habitat of coral, home to hundreds of species of marine plants and animals. But the beauty of the only tropical reef system in the continental U.S. is vanishing.

“Over the past 30 to 40 years, we’ve seen a drastic decline in coral cover… and it’s mostly been due to climate change,” said Stephanie Schopmeyer, a University of Miami marine biologist who’s working to save the species.

In just one decade, the reef lost nearly half its coral cover. The system stretches more than 300 miles along Florida’s coast.

CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez and his team set out with Schopmeyer to see the Rescue a Reef program in action. Scientists who are certified divers are replanting parts of the reef with the help of “citizen scientists.”
“Citizen scientists are members of our local community that are interested in participating and contributing to any type of science program and in our case it’s coral restoration,” Schopmeyer said. She said there’s a waiting list.

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The first task is to collect…